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Public gatherings further limited

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

In an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam imposed new limits on the size of public gatherings Tuesday. He also eased restrictions on unemployment benefits, ordered DMV offices closed and certain utilities are prohibited from disconnecting services for 60 days.

With regards to gatherings, Northam says Virginians should now avoid nonessential gatherings of more than 10 people, which is in compliance with federal guidelines. The limit does not, however, apply to essential services at manufacturers, distribution centers, airports, bus and train stations, medical facilities, grocery stores or pharmacies.

Furthermore, the governor is asking those aged 65 or older, or who have chronic health conditions that make them a high risk of contracting the virus, to self-quarantine. Others are asked to practice social distancing, while restaurants, fitness centers and theaters are “mandated” to reduce their capacity to 10 patrons or close. Restaurants are encouraged to continue offering carryout or takeaway.

Since closures, service reductions and quarantines are impacting some Virginian’s jobs, Northam imposed several measures to assist employees. The one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits is waived, eligibility for benefits is being enhanced in situations involving COVID 19 and persons already receiving unemployment will see relaxed deadlines and other requirements.

Northam says employers that are forced to slow or cease operations as a result of the public health emergency will not be penalized for having increased numbers of unemployment requests. Rapid response funding is authorized to assist employers eligible to remain open. These funds can be used for cleaning facilities and support of emergency needs.

Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles offices and mobile units will be closed at least through mid-May. However, online services remain available for renewing licenses or vehicle registrations. Those who cannot renew online and whose license or registration expires before May 15 will be given a 60-day extension.

Finally, the State Corporation Commission has directed utilities it regulates, including electric, natural gas and water services, to suspend disconnections for 60 days “to provide immediate relief for any customer, residential and business, who may be financially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.”

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